Localising semantic and syntactic processing in spoken and written language comprehension: an Activation Likelihood Estimation meta-analysis

Brain Lang. 2015 Feb;141:89-102. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2014.11.012. Epub 2015 Jan 8.


We conducted an Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) meta-analysis to identify brain regions that are recruited by linguistic stimuli requiring relatively demanding semantic or syntactic processing. We included 54 functional MRI studies that explicitly varied the semantic or syntactic processing load, while holding constant demands on earlier stages of processing. We included studies that introduced a syntactic/semantic ambiguity or anomaly, used a priming manipulation that specifically reduced the load on semantic/syntactic processing, or varied the level of syntactic complexity. The results confirmed the critical role of the posterior left Inferior Frontal Gyrus (LIFG) in semantic and syntactic processing. These results challenge models of sentence comprehension highlighting the role of anterior LIFG for semantic processing. In addition, the results emphasise the posterior (but not anterior) temporal lobe for both semantic and syntactic processing.

Keywords: Meta-analysis; Methodology; Neuroimaging; Semantics; Syntax; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Comprehension*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Reading*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Semantics*
  • Writing*